As Kirill Gotovets  describes his style, he makes it clear that defense comes first.
Despite recording 15 points over his first two seasons at Cornell University, the defenseman isn’t worried about not finding his name on the scoresheet during the first nine games of his junior year.
His game still evolving, Gotovets knows stats aren’t everything.
“I think I still play the same style, just a little bit unlucky with the points,” he said. “I don’t think it matters how many points I get, I just worry about how I play and how the team plays.”
Big Red coach Mike Schafer seconds the sentiments, and has been impressed with the adjustments the junior has made in the defensive zone.
“Points from a defenseman ebb and flow,” Schafer said. “There are nights where you get a shot to the net...and you get an assist. Kirill has a great shot and he gets pucks to the net. He’s not a pure offensive defenseman, but he can move the puck.”
One year after some spot-duty at forward, Gotovets has taken over new roles on the Cornell blueline. Projected as a puck-moving defenseman, the first Belarusian to suit up for the Big Red has spent more time killing penalties than manning the point on the power play.
“His penalty killing has come a long, long way,” Schafer said. “He’s now a regular on our penalty kill. He uses his skating speed, and he’s getting better and better at that all the time. We’re pretty happy with his development.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning staff frequently checks in with its 2009 seventh-rounder. Last month, Gotovets received a call from general manager Steve Yzerman, a former Detroit Red Wings center many idolized growing up.
“I’m not an exception, he used to be my favorite player,” Gotovets said. “It’s amazing. The first time I met him he knew my name. I was like ‘Wow, Steve Yzerman knows my name.’ That was pretty special.”
The Lightning, seeing that Gotovets put up 32 points in 54 games in his first year in North America with Shattuck St. Mary’s, were impressed with his skill and ability to move the puck.
Besides a smaller ice surface and more physical play, the 5-11 defender found it relatively easy to adapt to his new surroundings.
“It’s still hockey,” he said. “It’s the same everywhere.”
Gotovets recalled keeping tabs on the draft at home, but left the room thinking he didn’t have a chance after the sixth round had passed.
“My brother stayed and watched until the end,” Gotovets said. “He ran into the room and was like ‘You got drafted! Tampa Bay!’"
Although his skills are still developing, Gotovets should already be used to the big stage. At 21, he has had six stints representing his country, playing more than 20 games on either the Under-18, Under-20, or World Championship teams.
“Playing for the national team is always an honor,” he said. “I was honored to play against the best players in the world.”
The Minsk-native was also thankful for a chance to play at Madison Square Garden last month, and was a plus-3 as Cornell topped the University of Michigan, 5-1. For Gotovets, it seemed like everyone in the crowd was rooting for the Big Red.
“It’s probably the best experience of my life so far, with all of the fans and stuff,” he said. “It’s just crazy how great Cornell fans are.”
With the faithful filling the stands for every Cornell home game, it’s hard not to get sucked into the atmosphere at Lynah Rink.
Gotovets plans to stay playing at the rink and with the Big Red for his senior season. He will finish his studies in applied economics and management.
“That’s the plan right now,” he said. “I’m really close to getting my degree and I don’t think it would be that much different if I left early or if I stayed another year.”
Cornell University defenseman Kirill Gotovets, wearing No. 24, skates against St. Lawrence at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, New York, on December 1, 2012.